Omicron variant first detected in South Africa raises alarm bells as experts urge extra caution

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CORRECTION: 28 November 2021 09:40 – The headline for this article was amended from ‘Omicron variant from South Africa raises alarm bells as experts urge extra caution’, so as not to inaccurately suggest that the Omicron variant originated in South Africa.

Work is underway to look at tweaking vaccines against the new concerning strain of coronavirus (Covid-19) that has sparked travel bans.

The variant has been named Omicron and designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It has reached Belgium after being discovered in South Africa.

The WHO warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread more rapidly than other strains.

‘A huge concern’

As Belgium became the first EU country to announce a case, ministers were facing calls to go further to prevent a wave of the new variant arriving in Britain while a Delta surge is ongoing.

Professor John Edmunds advises the government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). He warned that the new variant could create a “very, very, very difficult situation”.

Read on...

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Moreover, he said the new strain “is a huge worry” and that “all the data suggests” it would be able to evade current immunity. He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme:

Our fears are it would do so to a large extent

He urged ministers to look at extending travel restrictions and to prepare a plan to deal with Omicron because “at some point we’re going to get this variant here in the UK”.

‘Lower your exposure’

.Experts at the WHO said there’s early evidence to suggest Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” and its rapid spread in South Africa suggests it has a “growth advantage”.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said “What’s really important at an individual is to lower your exposure”. She added:

The measures – these proven public health measures – have never been more important. Distancing, wearing of a mask, making sure that it’s over your nose and mouth, with clean hands, making sure you avoid crowded spaces, be in rooms where there’s good ventilation, and when it’s your turn, get vaccinated.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said there’s “huge international concern” surrounding the strain. He has banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to limit its spread.

Javid told MPs there are concerns the variant may be more transmissible. It may also make existing vaccines less effective and may hinder one of the UK’s Covid-19 treatments, Ronapreve.

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain’s move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa. It came ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants

Adapting vaccines

Novavax said it has:

already initiated development of a new recombinant spike protein based on the known genetic sequence of B.1.1.529 and will have it ready to begin testing and manufacturing within the next few weeks

Moderna said:

Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern.

This strategy includes three levels of response should the currently authorized 50 µg (microgram) booster dose of mRNA-1273 prove insufficient to boost waning immunity against the Omicron variant.

In a statement reported by the Guardian, Pfizer and BioNTech said they took action “months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant”.


No cases of the new strain have been detected in the UK. But its arrival in Belgium – after being found in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel – has heightened concerns.

Marc Van Ranst is a virologist at the Rega Institute in Belgium. He said a sample was confirmed as the variant in a traveller who returned from Egypt on 11 November before first showing symptoms 11 days later.

The six African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list on the evening of Thursday 25 November. And passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday 28 November will be required to quarantine. They’ll need to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.

(PA Graphics)(PA Graphics)

Downing Street urged anyone who has arrived from those countries recently to get tested.

Javid said discussions are ongoing over the prospect of adding further countries to the red list. He told the Commons the government “won’t hesitate to act if we need to do so”.


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  • Show Comments
    1. PART-1
      MY-Personal post on Facebook website 28.11.2021
      JUST this to ask Boris + Javid that know about the new infection.
      Why did you let people in from the overseas infected Country in the first place? You already in advance know were possibly infected??

      Therefore, answer this Question all Tory Govt member were any of them rich Tory party funder that infected U.K. just allowed to just walk into the U.K. unchecked at our airport customs lines yes or no?
      Because if you know they were coming from an infected country outside of U.K. our border people should have stopped them and placed them in quarantine to prevent infecting to us U.K. people and possibly now a new L-Down for us at XMAS time Boris.
      Was our border customs people told about the visitors coming from a country with a new infection yes or no Tory Govt minister?
      LOOK Tory party members If we British people are to be placed in Lock Down again because of you miss handling of this new strain
      You let come into the U.K. unchecked (possibly) by border or customs checks at airports rail links from channel tunnel end.
      You cannot escape this matter has you found them fast within the U.K. in properties (point) they have now already infected the U.K.
      With the new strain and passed it tother residents.
      To all resident of U.K. young and old alike the Tory Govt has failed again to protect us all form overseas infection carriers of viruses
      Was it so Tory Govt could get the rich business people party funding cash they were allowed to come here I ask all Tory party members? From Boris to new M.P. from Dec 2019 G.E.??

      Finally–Boris -Javid what day will new L-Down start over you letting infected people come into the U.K. to infect us residents here form overseas infected countries to benefit Tory party only with possible election party funding for next G.E.

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